The Syrian government's and opposition factions' representatives will meet in Astana today for talks brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, following a ceasefire in the crisis-torn country endorsed by the UN Security Council on December 31, 2016.
The main round of the negotiations is expected to begin on Monday at 1 p.m. local time (07:00 GMT) and to finish at the same time on Tuesday.
The representatives of 14 groups of Syrian armed opposition, which signed the ceasefire agreement on December 29, have been invited to take part in the talks. Mohammed Alloush, who is a former chief negotiator for the High Negotiation Committee, would head the delegation. The list of the groups includes Jaysh al-Islam, Faylak al-Sham, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jabhat al-Shamiya, Fastaqim and Suvar al-Sham, among others. Representatives of Free Syrian Army (FSA) and High Negotiation Committee will attend the talks as well.
The United States will be represented at the Syrian talks in Astana by the US Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol, Sputnik reports.
Syria's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari confirmed that he would lead the Syrian government’s delegation at the upcoming talks. "Yes, I will lead the government delegation during the Astana meeting," Jaafari said.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura did not rule out inviting representatives of the armed Syrian groups attending the talks in Astana to further negotiations in Geneva under the UN auspices.
Russia's special presidential envoy on the Syria settlement, Alexander Lavrentiev, said it was unclear if the representatives of the warring parties would meet face-to-face or communicate using intermediaries. He added that the delegations of Russia, Iran and Turkey have managed to bring closer their positions on Syria settlement, adding that preparations for Astana talks were going intensively.
The work on the final document for the intra-Syrian negotiations in Astana is still ongoing, according to Russian delegation head.
The Russian delegation consists of representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, including the Russia's special presidential envoy on the Syria settlement, Alexander Lavrentiev, the Director of Middle East and North Africa Department in the Foreign Ministry, Sergey Vershinin, and the Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Directorate General, Stanislav Gadjimagomedov.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari and Turkish Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Sedat Onal are heading the Iranian and Turkish delegations.
The Syrian envoy to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, who is heading the Syrian government delegation in Astana, said there are still differences which the two sides are trying to overcome.
“We have not reached yet a clear joint understanding of these two aspects [achieving a lasting ceasefire and fighting terrorism],” Jaafari told RT.
"We think that the ceasefire must be nationwide but not including the terrorist organizations like ISIS or Nusra Front, there must be guarantees of its abidance and sanctions for its breach. These are three main points along with the separation of the zones of contact," the member of the council of Syrian High Negotiation Committee (HNC), Abdulhakim Bashar, said.
Head researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Science, Irina Zvyagelskaya, told earlier Vestnik Kavkaza that the goal of Astana meeting is to prepare a broader conference in the framework of the UN, to take another step towards complete settlement.
"The specifics of this step lie in the growth of activity of such regional powers as Turkey and Iran, which is very important, because they have access to Syrian opposition forces (Turkey) and the official Damascus (Iran)," she explained.
"It doesn't mean that Russia's approach completely coincides with Turkey's approach, Iran's approach or even approach of President Bashar Assad. Everyone have its own vision, but at the same time there is a common belief that it is time to end this terrible war and achieve stabilization in Syria. It's very important that even Assad is ready to negotiate with people who fight against him. He didn't want to do it previosly, but now he will negotiate with those who have influence over the situation on the ground. It's a very important step," the expert stressed.
"Of course, it won't be easy, there are too many interests of both internal forces and regional powers, and there are many opposite approaches on how to resolve Syrian conflict. I'm afraid it will be a long, difficult and quite painful process, but it's impossible to live without it any longer," Zvyagelskaya concluded.
The trilateral meeting of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Astana is an important step for Syria crisis settlement, UN's Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said, adding that Syria needs truce stabilization.